The weird story of the South African missile very similar to the ramjet-powered version of the Russian R-77 medium-range air-to-air missile

The weird story of the South African missile very similar to the ramjet-powered version of the Russian R-77 medium-range air-to-air missile

By Tom Cooper
Jun 3 2021
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Most likely, this was a sheer accident. Or – and considering a number of what could only be described as ‘South African adaptations of Soviet designs’ – perhaps it was none….?

Recent work on the project War of Intervention in Angola, Volume 4 (that as for War of Intervention in Angola, Volumes from 1-3 will be published by Helion & Company), prompted me into doing ‘at least the bare minimum’ of research into the ‘missile gap’ the South African Air Force (SAAF) experienced when encountering (Cuban-flown) MiG-23MLs over southern Angola of summer 1987.

Essentially, SAAF’s Mirage F.1CZ- and F.1AZ-pilots found themselves outrun, outturned, and outgunned by MiG-23MLs tooting that little ‘poison dwarf’ called the R-60MK (ASCC/NATO-codename ‘AA-8 Aphid’).

Now, by side of this leading into ‘digging’ about nearly everything from Kukri V.1 up to V.3S Snake… but, eventually I stumbled into the following.

Back in 1986, the Defence Research and Development Council of South Africa launched the research and development of a ramjet-powered missile – apparently with intention of this leading to a medium-range air-to-air missile, or at least a similar surface-to-air missile.

As far as I know, the first related boosters (calibre 127mm) were tested already in 1988, followed by bigger ones (calibre 230mm).

What’s of particular interest is the aerodynamic design: what emerged in period 1988-1992 was a vehicle quite similar to the design of the (ramjet-powered) Soviet-made 3M9 missile from the 2K12 Kub (ASCC/NATO-codename ‘SA-6 Gainful’) surface-to-air system. As far as I know, three vehicles powered by 127mm boosters were tested in 1992, and the first solid-propelled prototype flew in 1994.

One of these should’ve reached a speed of Mach 2.3.

…as far as I know, this missile never received any kind of a designation: apparently, the project was cancelled either already in 1994, or ‘shortly later’…

Interestingly, and ‘roughly around the same time’, the Russians then showed their own, and very similar design – the K-77PD, i.e. a ramjet-powered version of the R-77 medium-range air-to-air missile.

Most likely, this was a sheer accident. Or – and considering a number of what could only be described as ‘South African adaptations of Soviet designs‘ – perhaps it was none….?

Check out Helion & Company website for books featuring interesting stories written by The Aviation Geek Club contributor Tom Cooper.

Photo credit: Unknown


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Tom Cooper

Tom Cooper

Tom Cooper is an Austrian aerial warfare analyst and historian. Following a career in the worldwide transportation business – during which he established a network of contacts in the Middle East and Africa – he moved into narrow-focus analysis and writing on small, little-known air forces and conflicts, about which he has collected extensive archives. This has resulted in specialisation in Middle Eastern, African and Asian air forces. As well as authoring and co-authoring 560 books and over 1,000 articles, he has co-authored the Arab MiGs book series – a six-volume, in-depth analysis of the Arab air forces at war with Israel, in the 1955–73 period. Cooper has been working as editor of the five @War series since 2017. tom@acig.info

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